Four legs good, two legs bad

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May 21st, 2017

Another week has passed, and of course there has been continued sniping against advocates for the Scaled Agile Framework. Yes, you guessed right, this is another rant about why some do not like alternative frameworks.

Wherever I see a pattern, technique, or framework that has utility or value — I do my utmost to learn what I can. If it stands up to scrutiny then I add it to my toolkit.

In the early 2000’s, while there was still a focus on adopting lean and agile practices in delivery teams, nobody was paying much attention to what happened outside of the delivery team. How do product owners build a ready backlog? How should we cater for operational needs in our products? How do we make investment decisions when we have more than one product and many potential new ideas?

Over the years that followed, we saw several thought-leaders step up and articulate ideas that evolved to cover these areas. As these ideas developed, they sought a place in the scattered lean/agile landscape. While some set themselves up as part of a post-agile movement (like DevOps), some saw themselves as part of the agile movement, extending lean and agile practices from the delivery team upwards and outwards (like SAFe).

While people had no alternative, these ideas were humoured and even promoted. However, as the the market for consulting and training grew, other approaches evolved too. This is good. This is how markets evolve.

However, SAFe had by then established a significant market share of this space, and these new alternatives were not making much headway on their own merits. So instead, they turned to negative marketing. They cast anyone involved in SAFe as regressive, intent on making it easier for executives not to change. This is only a sign that they are worried.

Many years ago, I came across Dean Leffingwell’s blog and saw what he was doing in describing elements of what would become the first draft of his big picture. I, like many others, interacted and provided feedback and comments. It was interesting to see it evolve, and not surprising when the scheme of training and consultancy sprang up around it. Sure, it would have been great to have seen it continue as an open community-based initiative (like Wikipedia) — but it is a creator’s absolute right to make an income from their ideas as well as sharing them.

Is SAFe is the only way of achieving agility in large corporates? No. I applaud the development of other frameworks in the space of working at scale.

As I said at the outset, I use any pattern, technique, or framework that has utility or value. I included several of these in my book on ‘Agile Project Management‘ and a smaller subset in my more recent book on ‘Scrum‘. While I am a SAFe Agilist, I do appreciate and use ideas from all these frameworks.

As Edmund Burke once said, “all that it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing“. Whenever I hear people deriding SAFE rather than promoting what is good about an alternative, I do feel honour-bound to step in and comment.

However, this infighting in the broad lean/agile camp is wrong. It reminds me so much of George Orwell’s soviet allegory, Animal Farm. The movement’s founding principles only survived as long as it was in the interests of those who assumed leadership. The founding seven principles, summarised in the slogan “four legs good, two legs bad“, were progressively altered, until they became “four legs good, two legs better“.

If we believe that individuals and interactions are valued more highly than processes and tools, then we need to spend less energy fighting over who has the right framework and more in helping organisations understand how to achieve greater agility.

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